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Friday, September 30, 2016
Professor Mona Siddiqui gives Pope Paul VI Lecture
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 History was made on Friday when Professor Mona Siddiqui, became the first Muslim to give the annual Pope Paul VI lecture.

Professor Siddiqui is Professor of Islamic Studies and Public Understanding at the University of Glasgow. She spoke on the subject of charity and the Qur'an. The event, which took place at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster, was chaired by John Battle MP. CAFOD director Chris Bain opened the evening with a short presentation on the agency's work throughout the past year. A vote of thanks was given by Bishop John Arnold. Music was provided by the Attah Haddad group.

A summary of Professor Siddiqui's lecture follows.

The Qur'an teaches us that charity is faithful obedience to what God commands ­ turning compassion into action

The Qur'an knows that charity can too easily bear its own reward, in that the giver is seen and praised as a person of means who is nevertheless bountiful to the poor. The true charity proposed by the Qur'an should be performed as faithful obedience to what God commands. As such, it need be seen by no one but God. Thus, in a passage reminiscent of Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount on giving alms, the Qur'an teaches: "If you give sadaqa (alms) openly, that is good, but if you conceal it and give it [directly] to the poor, that is better for you" (verse 2:271).

Giving and praying keep God alive in our hearts. But charitable behaviour is much bigger than the distribution of wealth or social economics. A famous saying from the Prophet himself highlights what could be meant by charity, and the Arabic word used here is "sadaqa":

Each person's every joint must perform a charity every day the sun comes up: to act justly between two people is a charity; to help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it, hoisting his belongings onto it is a charity, a good word is a charity, every step you take to prayers is a charity and removing a harmful thing from the road is a charity.

This notion of a small step towards making our relations with one another a voluntary act of compassion, an act of goodwill, and an act of mercy is the underlying sense of "charity" here. It is not qualified by whom we show this act to or any limitations to the act. Charity lies in the sharing and giving of knowledge, the ability to speak with humility, the willingness to provide hope in all forms of adversity, the ability to forgive, to give respect and dignity, in the simple understanding that what really ties me to a common humanity is compassion. Compassion for everyone, but especially for those who are
hungry and thirsty, for those who are cold and lonely, for those who are neither loved nor have anyone to love, for those suffering in distant lands, to whom I feel drawn, and where I see neither colour nor creed ­ only people who, with all their differences, are just like me.

The challenge is to turn that compassion into action, not just for sustainable living but for good living. Here I am slightly haunted by the Qur'anic verses that state that on the day of judgment my eyes and ears will bear witness to what I have seen and heard, my limbs will testify to the wrong and the right I have done ­ that nothing can remain hidden from God. To live a just and dignified life, I need to be more aware of what I see, what I say and what I hear, for in all that I do I am ultimately accountable.

I have wasted too much time doing things that have yielded no benefit nor respect to anyone, not even myself, simply for the fun of it. It has taken me years to appreciate that what I do and say matters to people around me, that personal dignity and integrity are not tedious concepts but indispensable to a more gracious society. That making time for my marriage, my children, my friends and even my colleagues is my contribution to the flourishing of humanity.

Yet despite this, why do I repeatedly give in to temptation, to selfish desires, to a world centred on me? The fundamental human condition is that man is created weak and strong, both discerning and ignorant, but open to temptation. The cycle of sin followed by repentance, the biblical metanoai, may be man's destiny. The Islamic equivalent, tawba, is literally "returning to God", and God acting in accordance with his merciful nature will forgive.

This is a continuous correlation of man-God relations. In fact, in two similar traditions the Prophet says "If you had not sinned, God would have created a people who would and would have pardoned them", and "if you had not sinned, I would have feared of you what is more evil than sins". When it was asked "and what is that?", Muhammad said "pride". On the simplest level, it was pride and arrogance that led Iblis to disobey God, for which he became the "accursed Satan".
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